Bicycle Diaries: January 2008

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Polka ride

critical mass
w/the Polkaholics

Last Friday's mass in The Windy City got off to a chilly start with somewhere around 300 bikers. It wasn't all that cold but cold enough to keep the presence of Chicago's Finest to a minimum. The two bike cops who started out with us peeled off after 30 minutes.

It was also the quickest mass I've been on. Not because of the cold. Rather our goal was to hook up with The Polkaholics. Each January we roll to wherever this punk polka band is playing. This year it was up in my 'hood at the Lincoln Square Lanes, our local bowling alley. What could be better than music that's hot as a grilled kielbasa & crunchy as a potato pancake?

The band even performed a new song about Critical Mass. So we drank, we danced, we sang, and we bowled. PirogiJohn even got into the spirit with his succulent bike attire.

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Tie your damn shoes!

especially when
you roll

Mathew Honan reports in Wired, 27 November 07, on How to Lace Your Shoes. He turns to Professor Shoelace (aka Ian Fieggen, an Australian programmer with a shoe(lace) fetish for a rundown of the ins and outs.
Before you tie 'em, you have to lace 'em — and you can choose from among 43,200 perfectly legitimate ways to do it. A smart stringing strategy can actually improve your game, sportswise and otherwise.
The Inside-out Version of Straight (Fashion) Lacing distributes pressure evenly plus keeps the knots & ends to the side. For biking, position them on the outside, away from chains & cranks. Lace the left shoe as pictured here and the right shoe in reverse so that the knots of both shoelaces end up towards the outside. This places the loops and loose ends further away from the bicycle chain, cranks and other moving parts. It evens out pressure and reduces snagging but looks like crap.
1. The lace is run straight across the bottom (grey section) and emerges through both bottom eyelets.

2. One end of the lace (yellow end) runs straight up the right side, is fed into and runs straight across the second set of eyelets.

3. Both ends now run straight up the left side, each skipping one eyelet before feeding in two eyelets higher up.

4. Continue running both ends across the shoe, then straight up two eyelets at a time.

5. At the top of the shoe, the laces end up on the same side and the shoelace knot is tied at that point.

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Got wood?

build a bike!

We never did this in woodshop %) Marco Facciola, a 16 year old high school student, decided to take the traditional curriculum in a whole new direction: a wooden bike. He notes that his choice of materials isn't all that original. In WWII Holland, rubber and steel were scarce. So his grandfather, Case Vandersluis, built wooden wheels for his bike. What is original is that Marco decided to construct his entire bike out of wood, even the drive train.

The first challenge that Marco successfully tackled was building a chain that wouldn't break. I wonder if he's ever heard of Eric Sloane? If he has, he shouldn't have worried so much. Sloane, who was known as Mr. Americana, penned some 50 books and numerous newspaper columns all celebrating good ole' Yankee ingenuity. My absolute fav is A Reverence for Wood. With it, Sloane reminds his modern readers that the first European settlers in America developed
...[a] special knowledge of which wood is suited to which task, the ready identification of native trees, the reverence for wood, the instinctive knowledge that wood can warm the soul as well as the body --

Well before our modern obsession with sustainability and even before the Back to the Land Movement of the early 70s, wood was the ultimate renewable resource. Sloane shows that in many ways it was stronger and more flexible than iron. The wooden teeth of giant mill cogs wore more evenly and ultimately lasted longer. As a result, wood drove our early industrial revolution.

I'm sure that Eric Sloane, who died in 1985, would've been fascinated by Marco's project. It reflects not only ingenuity but self-reliance and frugality. Sloane believed that these are the ultimate American virtues, for as he describes in A Declaration of Self-Dependence,
My Nation was born with a declaration of independence, but to be free, I must also practice an individual independence.

...As frugality is part of the family economy, so must thrift be important to national revenue. The practice if thrift is insurance against greed, which had no part in the original American philosophy.

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...not quite

I was out in Ohio for work most of this week. And while I was gone it seems that we had our own version of Cloverfield a few streets over. Yep, that's one hell of a pothole.

On a more germane note, tonight is the night for our annual Chicago Critical Mass Polka Ride. We're rolling up to Lincoln Square to join the Polkaholics, the Chicago band that plays a high-speed collision of polka and rock 'n roll. Our destination is the Lincoln Square Lanes at 4874 N. Lincoln Avenue.

And temps are expected to hover around a balmy 18 degrees!

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Rolling global...

Bike Winter

Last week, over in Bath (England), BikeRadar's News Section reported on our penchant for frosty rides:
The Windy City is one of the coldest urban areas in the United States come the snowy season, but that doesn’t seem to stop the city’s keenest cyclists. The lowest temperature on record in Chicago was a bitter – 27 F/ -33C on January 20, 1985, with 36mph wind gusts and wind chills at -93F/ -69C ...

Julie Sherman, former president of Chicago Cycling Club, said: "In winter, sometimes I think you need that motivation that there's going to be a social gathering. Then you think: 'If I can do this now, think what I can do when spring rolls around.'"

One group pledges to meet up at the bike-friendly Handlebar on Chicago’s North Avenue for a “Snow Ride” every time the city gets a dump of two or more inches of snow. This Saturday (Jan 19) the Midnight Marauders, another posse of intrepid cyclists who meet monthly, will hook up late at the Billy Goat bar before heading out into the winter chill ...

And community group West Town Bikes, 2418 W. North will also be offering riders a helping hand this week, with a Winter Cycle Workshop on Saturday. They’ll be telling two-wheelers how to keep their steeds in top condition during the off season, with a tune up and info on how to identify drive train wear, tru a wheel, finishing off with a group ride.

The Chicago Bike Winter group is urging riders not to give up too. It says: “If you've ever thought about how nice it would be to drive less, you can learn how to make your bicycle an all weather, all occasion transportation tool. A bike in motion tends to stay in motion, a bike in a basement tends to stay in the basement - even on the "nice" days.”

To find out more about winter cycling, check out The website’s aimed at Chicagoans, but there are lots of hints for winter cycling, whereever you ride.

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A dangerous bike

and a
late blooming

Ernest Chausson
20 January 1855 - 10 June 1899

109 years ago today, Chausson died in Limary, Seine-et-Oise, as a result of a bike accident. He was 44. He lost control of the bike he was riding on a steep downhill slope. He rolled straight into the brick wall of his estate and died instantly. He was buried in Cimetière du Père Lachaise in Paris.

A late-blooming French romantic composer Chausson died just as his career was beginning to flourish. From 1886 until his death, he was secretary of the Société Nationale de Musique. He received many of the Paris artistic elite in his salon, including the composers Henri Duparc, Gabriel Fauré, Claude Debussy, and Isaac Albéniz, the poet Mallarmé, the Russian novelist and playwright Ivan Turgenev, and the impressionist painter Claude Monet. Chausson also assembled an important collection of impressionist art.

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So damn cold %(

bike winter

So damn cold, my beard
Freezes snotty hard - that’s my
Crusty bike winter...

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Happy map %)

the Brits on Bliss

In The Xtian Science Monitor, 7 January 2008, Eric Weiner opines on University of Leicester psychologists who recently produced the world's first happy map.
Jean-Paul Sartre famously declared that "Hell is other people." Sartre got it wrong, or perhaps he was hanging out with the wrong people. The emerging science of happiness has found that the single biggest determinant of our happiness is the quantity and the quality of our relationships.
Using data from the emerging science of happiness, they created a color-coded atlas of bliss, a topography of the human spirit, from Algeria to Zimbabwe. It's not climate or topography or some mysterious energy that is at work here, but national culture. Some cultures are simply better at producing happy citizens than others.

The map contains more than a few surprises. Iceland for instance is among the happiest in the world, despite a rather brutal climate and recording-breaking statistics for their consumption of fermented beverages. If only they had broken down their map by US locales. Perhaps Wisconsin, or even Chicago (current temp is 3 degrees), would have beaten Iceland?

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Smart Fortwo

smart at all?

The Smart Fortwo was designed primarily for urban use in European cities, where parking is scarce and fuel economy is of great importance. The Smart Fortwo's length of only 8 ft allows as many as three of the vehicles to be parked in the space normally taken by one standard-length car.

Smart car dealers in the US were a mix of green car specialty companies and exotic car dealers. Approximately 1,000 model year 2004, 2005 and 2006 smart cars were imported with Smart Germany/ Mercedes Benz's cooperation and converted by G&K. The terms of the United Auto Group deal closed the door on the legal importation of the smart, and the smart soon became one of the most desirable collectible exotic cars in the US.

The redesigned Smart Fortwo is available this month. A $99 reservation program was launched by smart USA in March, 2007. This program allows interested parties to place a $99 refundable deposit on the new Fortwo in preparation for the product's launch. To some, the 2008 smart was a disappointment. Its EPA mileage was expected to drop by 20%, and in an apparent attempt to turn the smart into a profitable division, the turbo-charged Mercedes Benz powerplant was replaced by a non-turbo Mitsubishi engine, the interior made more conservative, and the overall dimensions of the car increased.

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Winter Bike to Work Day

our windy
...or our

Not to be undone by the weekend's predicted sub-zero temps, the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation has declared that tomorrow will be Winter Bike to Work Day. The hardy and foolish are hooking up at Daley Plaza between 7 and 9 a.m. From their site:
The date marks the 23rd anniversary of Chicago's coldest recorded day — Jan. 20, 1985, when the official temperature at O'Hare was minus 27 degrees with 36 mph wind gusts, which produced wind chills as low as minus 93 degrees.

From 7 to 9 a.m. Jan. 18, the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation will welcome bike riders to the plaza for this annual event, serving hot chocolate and Eli's Cheesecake. Plus, there's a free raffle for prizes from the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation.

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99 Luftballons

Ever get bored just biking in the big city? Why not launch a few balloons then follow them through the streets? Better yet, why not attach a compact digital camcorder to the balloons and record their journey? Some folks did just this with a video project that started with the idea to send a video camera over San Francisco, no strings attached. Just the wind and gravity ... and to get to it wherever it may land by chasing it on bikes.

This immediately made me think of 99 Luftballons, the Cold War-era protest song by the German New Wave band Nena. Most folks here in the States remember the English cover, 99 Red Balloons, from those wonderful 80s.

You and I in a little toy shop
Buy a bag of balloons
With the money we've got
Set them free at the break of dawn
'Til one by one, they were gone
Back at base, bugs in the software
Flash the message
"Something's out there"
Floating in the summer sky
99 red balloons go by

99 red balloons
Floating in the summer sky
Panic bells, it's red alert
There's something here
From somewhere else
The war machine springs to life
Opens up one eager eye
Focusing it on the sky
Where 99 red balloons go by

99 Decision Street
99 ministers meet
To worry, worry, super-scurry
Call the troops out in a hurry
This is what we've waited for
This is it boys, this is war
The president is on the line
As 99 red balloons go by

[Instrumental Interlude]

99 Knights of the airway
Ride super-high-tech jet fighters
Everyone's a Superhero
Everyone's a Captain Kirk
With orders to identify
To clarify and classify
Scramble in the summer sky
As 99 red balloons go by

As 99 red balloons go by

99 dreams I have had
In every one a red balloon
It's all over and I'm standin' pretty
In this dust that was a city
If I could find a souvenier
Just to prove the world was here
And here is a red balloon
I think of you and let it go

Hast Du etwas Zeit fuer mich
Dann singe ich ein Lied fuer Dich
Von 99 Luftballons
Auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont
Denkst Du vielleicht grad' an mich
Dann singe ich ein Lied fuer Dich
Von 99 Luftballons
Und dass sowas von sowas kommt

99 Luftballons
Auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont
Hielt man fuer UFOs aus dem All
Darum schickte ein General
'ne Fliegerstaffel hinterher
Alarm zu geben, wenn's so waer
Dabei war'n da am Horizont
Nur 99 Luftballons

99 Duesenjaeger
Jeder war ein grosser Krieger
Hielten sich fuer Captain Kirk
Das gab ein grosses Feuerwerk
Die Nachbarn haben nichts gerafft
Und fuehlten sich gleich angemacht
Dabei schoss man am Horizont
Auf 99 Luftballons

99 Kriegsminister
Streichholz und Benzinkanister
Hielten sich fuer schlaue Leute
Witterten schon fette Beute
Riefen: Krieg und wollten Macht
Mann, wer haette das gedacht
Dass es einmal soweit kommt
Wegen 99 Luftballons

99 Jahre Krieg
Liessen keinen Platz fuer Sieger
Kriegsminister gibt's nicht mehr
Und auch keine Duesenflieger
Heute zieh ich meine Runden
Seh' die Welt in Truemmern liegen
Hab' 'nen Luftballon gefunden
Denk' an Dich und lass' ihn fliegen

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Dems for Rom?

at least
in Michigan

Mathew Yglesias writes in The Atlantic yesterday:
The context, recall, is that Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are allowed to vote in tomorrow's Michigan Primary and since there's no Democratic primary, Kos and others are urging Democrats to pull the lever for Mitt Romney. I do want to continue to make the point that, cynicism aside, it really does seem to me that Romney would be a less dangerous president than Mike Huckabee or John McCain or Rudy Giuliani. Voting for Romney in a primary is win-win.

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The Battle for Britain's Streets

Me & My Bicycle, a new social network for bikers just launched in London, has posted this BBC One documentary. It aired on Monday, 7 Jan 08. Thanks to Mike Greenville:
Britain is in the grip of an escalating road rage crisis. Filming on some of the UK's most traffic-choked streets, this special investigation exposes just how bad the situation has become; as violence and abuse in the war between motorists, cyclists, wardens and police escalates without any solution in sight.

For decades, the UK's ever-growing number of motorists have been kings of the road; paying tax and fuel duty, they believe the streets belong to them. But now the balance of power is shifting. Increasing numbers of cyclists and pedestrians are demanding, and exercising, equal rights to the road and the anger on each side is mounting.

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101 gagdets that changed the world

and improved my ride

Simon Usborne of London's The Independent On Sunday ranks seminal inventions. Although the bike, at #8, is only 1 of the 101, another 12 of his picks have definitely enhanced the pedaled technology for me.

8. Bicycle, 1861
: The renowned 19th-century US feminist Susan B Anthony said in an interview in 1896: "I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world." First devised as a gentleman's play thing in the 1820s, the push-powered hobby-horse quickly evolved to become the most classless form of transport, trundling by the millions along highways and byways all over the world. The French vélocipède, invented in 1861 by Pierre Marchaux, is widely considered to be the first true bicycle.

9. Biro, 1938: Had the Hungarian journalist Laszlo José Biró kept the patent for the world's first ballpoint pen, his estate (he died in 1985) would be worth billions. As it happened, Biró sold the patent to one Baron Bich of France in 1950. Biró's breakthrough had been to devise a ball-bearing nib capable of delivering to paper the smudge-resistant ink already used in printing. Today around 14 million Bic "Biros" are sold every day, perhaps making the pen the world's most successful gadget.

22. Digital camera, 1975: There could be no digital camera without the charge-coupled device (CCD), the "digital film" that captures images electronically. Developed in 1969, the widget allowed the Kodak engineer Steven Sasson to build the first digital camera, which resembled a toaster. The first, horribly blurry snap (of a female lab assistant) he took boasted just 0.01 megapixels and took almost a minute to record and display, but in those 60 seconds, Sasson had transformed photography – today digital cameras have all but killed off film and made photographers of us all.

42. Kettle, 1891: In tea-obsessed Britain, where would we be without the humble kettle? It has been said that the kitchen-counter staple is found in more homes than any other appliance. Non-electric kettles date back thousands of years but would leave you waiting ages for your brew. The first electric kettle was developed in Chicago in 1891 but even that took 12 minutes to boil water. Things soon got quicker and today's speediest kettles can boil two cups in little over a minute.

43. Laptop, 1982: A sturdy lap was required to support the earliest portable computers. The Osborne 1, released in 1981, often stakes a claim as the first laptop but it looked more like a sewing machine than today's sleek machines, and tipped the scales at more than 10kg. Introduced a year later, the GriD Compass 1100, designed by Brit Bill Moggridge, is a more likely contender. It was the first laptop to sport the now standard "clamshell" case and its lightweight build (5kg) made it a hit with Nasa and US paratroopers.

48. Locks, 2000 BC: Listen to the jangle of the average set of keys and it's clear just how important security has become in today's trust-nobody world. The Egyptians were the first to put things under lock and key about 4,000 years ago (clever knots were one earlier solution). The wooden contraption included a key that lifted pins, allowing a latch bar to slide free. The device was similar in principle to the pin-tumbler lock invented in 1848 by Linus Yale, whose name still adorns billions of keys.

62. Pneumatic tyre, 1845: Back when cars relied on real horse-power and bicycles weighed a ton, travellers were forced to endure bone-jarring rides over the bumps and potholes of the nation's primitive roads. Cue Robert Thomson, a civil engineer who realised the potential of air to soften the way. In 1845, he patented the use of pneumatic leather tyres on bikes. In 1888, a Scottish vet called John Dunlop devised the more durable rubber inner-tube model that helped inflate the age of the automobile.

72. Saddle, AD 200: The horse had almost joined the woolly mammoth and the T. rex on the list of extinct species when man first domesticated it in around 4,000BC. The beast's fortunes quickly changed and the horse soon became man's most useful (if not best) friend. Early ranchers and riders rode bareback or on blankets, limiting the efficiency with which they could hunt. These rattled horsemen had to wait until AD200 to get their bums on a saddle, which is thought to have been invented by Chinese nomads.

77. Spectacles, 1451: The correcting qualities of stone have been known for millennia – Emperor Nero was thought to use emerald to watch (presumably green-tinted) gladiatorial games. Modern glasses were first depicted in a 1352 portrait of Hugh de Provence, and the first evidence of their sale dates to 1450s Florence. The US founding father Benjamin Franklin is credited with the invention of bifocals in 1784 and useable contact lenses followed in 1887. Today, an estimated 75 per cent of UK adults sports a pair of specs.

87. Thermometer, 1592: It is difficult to place the thermometer in the history of modern invention; it is one of those devices that would inevitably appear – the product of no single mind. Galileo Galilei is most commonly credited, but his clumsy air thermometer, in which a column of air trapped in water expanded when warmed, was the culmination of more than 100 years of improvement. The classic mercury-in-glass thermometer, still in use today, was conceived by Daniel Fahrenheit in the 1720s.

88. Tools, 2,600,000 BC: If there is one defining feature of Homo that has separated it from all other genera, it is the ability to make tools. The earliest tool fragments come from East Africa and were made by Homo habilis more than two million years ago, but it is certain early man used tools before then, likely fashioning them from perishable materials such as wood or bone. Axes emerged as early as 10,000BC and by 3000BC the Egyptians were creating finely worked flints.

95. Velcro, 1948: The Swiss inventor George de Mestral became so fed up with removing cocklebur seeds from his dog and jacket, he put one under a microscope to discover the secret of its stickiness. The answer: velours (the French for loops, in clothing) and crochets (hooks, on the burs). He took the first syllables of the words, replicated the fastening phenomenon synthetically to create Velcro, used today in everything from ski jackets to "human Velcro walls".

100. Wheel, 3500 BC: The wheel surely deserves a place near the top of any "greatest inventions" list; a post-industrial world without it is inconceivable. Its invention was perhaps inevitable, but it came later than it might have done; several civilisations, including the Incas and the Aztecs did pretty well without wheels. The earliest evidence of a wheel – a pictograph from Sumeria (modern day Iraq) – dates from 3500BC; the device rolled West soon after that.

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Off the grid?

If you've never seen Strange Maps, you should check it out. The map above was posted on 3 December 07. It shows those cities around the world which are committed to an urban rail system as an alternative form of transportation. It's especially timely since our urban transport system, the CTA, has only 8 days to go before doomsday.
It's the opening page of a new book about the graphic design of subway, metro, underground and U-Bahn system maps and diagrams. Produced in the by now iconic style of Harry Beck’s 1933 London Underground map, the diagram reveals the differing degrees of metro-isation around the world.

Okay, this is a fantasy transit map. But just imagine taking the metro in Vancouver, all the way to Shanghai! With stops in Montréal, Amsterdam, Prague, Kiev and Novosibirsk! Come to think of it: that’s a pretty long stretch to have to sit in a dark tunnel…

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Sir Edmund Hillary

20 July 1919 -
11 January 2008

It is not the mountain we conquer,
but ourselves.

People do not decide to become extraordinary.
They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.

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The NH Primaries

were we all wrong!

This was everyone's assumption as to what the outcome would be, including Hillary and her erstwhile hubby. It was supposed to be her who, like Moses, would be forbidden by G-d to enter Zion. And Obama, filling in for Joshua, would waltz into the Land of Milk & Honey.

I'm borrowing the biblical metaphor in part because it's noticeably cropped up a number times in Obama's campaign speeches. Last March at the 45th Anniversary of the Selma Voting Rights March he referred to Dr. King and his followers as the Moses Generation.
I stand on the shoulders of giants. I thank the Moses generation; but we've got to remember, now, that Joshua still had a job to do. As great as Moses was, despite all that he did, leading a people out of bondage, he didn't cross over the river to see the Promised Land. God told him your job is done.

Obama then went on to declare that his generation; too young to have taken an active part in the early Civil Rights Movement, is ready to move forward.
The previous generation, the Moses generation, pointed the way. They took us 90% of the way there. We still got that 10% in order to cross over to the other side. So the question, I guess, that I have today is what's called of us in this Joshua generation? What do we do in order to fulfill that legacy; to fulfill the obligations and the debt that we owe to those who allowed us to be here today?
In my mind, The Joshua Generation is the more appealing face of The Jones Generation. As I've written before, all of us born between the 60s and X Generations have been waiting our turn to change the world. Although Obama is better known for successfully tapping into the youth vote I think he is trying to offer us Joneses the opportunity to become Joshuas.

Whether it works or not, Hillary is taking this challenge seriously. On the one hand, she's countered with her own offer to us Joneses based on her credentials as a bone fide representative of the 60s Generation. On the other, she's asserted that the Obama is no Joshua to Dr. King's Moses. In fact, it wasn't Dr. King who achieved the dreams of the Civil Rights Movement anyway. It was LBJ, who successfully passed the 1963 Voting Rights Act. And who better to be an LBJ (or perhaps a JFK) than Hillary?

Hillary's rhetorical jujitsu would be bad enough if it weren't for the strange feeling I'm getting that something very much like it has happened before. Jeff Greenfield, who writes for Slate, points to the aftermath of the 1984 New Hampshire Democratic Primary.
Former Vice President Walter Mondale went into the New Hampshire primary with the biggest lead in the polls of any nonincumbent ever; he left New Hampshire with a 10-point loss at the hands of Sen. Gary Hart's "New Ideas" campaign. The scent of the loser hung all over Mondale, and further losses in other New England states pointed to an imminent collapse.

But the very newness of Hart, and his scornful dismissal of Democrats' New Deal-Great Society heritage ("We're not a bunch of little Hubert Humphreys" he once said), gave Mondale the chance to rally traditional party constituencies. Black politicians in Alabama and Georgia gave him desperately needed victories. Big city machines and labor unions in Illinois and New York helped win him primaries that put him back on top.

Mondale struck gold during a March primary debate when, echoing a tagline from a popular ad of the day, he said to Hart, "When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that commercial: 'Where's the beef?' " And press scrutiny of the new guy revealed that Hart had fibbed about his age, and changed his name and even his handwriting. In the end, the combination of Mondale's appeal to the base and Hart's transformation from new to suspect proved the difference. (The next time he campaigned for the presidency, in 1988, Hart needed no help to self-destruct—reports of his affair with Donna Rice did the job.)

Greenfield suggests that this time around Hillary would do well to turn Obama, the agent of change, into the wet behind the ears whippersnapper who scorns the more mature, measured leadership she can provide the Democratic Party. Then all she has to do is wait for the media to zero in on their new target.

And I liked thinking of myself as a Joshua %(

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